• Michael McDevitt
    MAR 01, 2023

    Vallas, Johnson headed to runoff as Lightfoot is denied second term as mayor

    Former CPS CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Comm. Brandon Johnson give victory speeches at Election Night watch parties on Feb. 28, 2023, as both head into an April runoff for mayor. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

    Paul Vallas and Cook County Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1) are headed to a runoff for Chicago mayor as they placed ahead of the other seven contenders at the close of vote counting on election night. Though Vote By Mail ballots postmarked by Feb. 28 and other provisional ballots still need to be fully counted, their momentum paired with concessions from most of the other candidates, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, solidified a head-to-head matchup between the two in April. 

    With 98 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night, Vallas had earned more than 33.9 percent of the vote share and Johnson had earned more than 20.3 percent. 

    Lightfoot will become the first incumbent Chicago mayor in 34 years to lose a reelection bid. By the end of the night the mayor sat in third place with more than 16.9 percent of the vote.

    Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), has surged in polls as voters have appeared to latch on to his consistent messaging of being tough-on-crime and other public safety concerns. The Fraternal Order of Police-backed candidate wants to hire more police officers and detectives, create a pathway for officers who recently left the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to return without any impact to their seniority and create a grace period for CPD’s Chicago residency requirement for new officers. 

    But Vallas has come under fire over questions about his residency in Chicago, comments on critical race theory he’s made, his tenure as CPS CEO and his association with a group known for homophobic and transphobic views. 

    “Our fight isn’t over yet and we will be spending the next five weeks talking to the people of our city about the need to elect a leader who is transparent, accountable, collaborative, and who puts public safety at the top of our priorities,” Vallas said in a statement. “The City of Chicago needs a leader who will bring our city together. Someone who shares our residents’ values as a lifelong, pro-choice Democrat. Someone who is prepared with the comprehensive plans that we need to restore public safety in our communities, turn around our schools and stabilize our finances.” 

    City leaders including Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44) attended Vallas’ election night party in support of the mayoral candidate. 

    Johnson, a former social studies teacher and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) organizer, gained momentum over other progressive candidates in the race. Johnson entered the mayor’s race in late October with the backing of the CTU already in place and has since gained endorsements from other labor groups such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, American Federation of Teachers and Illinois Federation of Teachers. 

    “We get to turn the page of the politics of old because, with our voices and our votes, we've come together as one city to say that we deserve a Chicago that is better, stronger, safer for everyone,” Johnson said at a packed watch party Tuesday night flanked by family and elected officials. “No matter where you live, no matter what you look like, you deserve to have a better stronger, safer Chicago … A city where you can thrive regardless of who you love or how much money you have in your bank account. A city that respects the workers who keep it running, that actually values them by building new affordable housing, blazing a pathway for homeownership. You deserve that Chicago.” 

    Multiple labor unions issued statements celebrating Johnson’s advancement.  

    “We believe Brandon is the progressive candidate who will unite a multi-racial working-class coalition to unify Chicago into a city that works for all people,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said in a statement. “Brandon has always been there championing our members’ fight for a fair contract.” 

    United Working Families Executive Director Emma Tai added in a statement “the choice between Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas could not be clearer: multi-racial democracy or violent and racist austerity. We are more than ready to fight for the future of our city.” 

    Johnson has most often focused on tackling root causes as his planned approach to public safety such as housing and job security. He’s promised to reopen shuttered mental health clinics and use “community-based interventions” to prevent gun violence and other crimes before they happen. In addition to seeking to strengthen community relations with police, Johnson also champions reform measures such as the removal of the so-called gang database and says he will ensure CPD compliance with the consent decree. 

    Lightfoot’s first term was defined by her administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and citywide unrest in 2020 over racial injustice and police brutality. She has often had a combative relationship with the City Council. 

    “Serving as your mayor has been the honor of a lifetime,” Lightfoot said on Twitter. “I am so grateful to all of you who have stood beside me these last four years.”    

    U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.) was a late entry to the mayor’s race and, though coming out of the gate with strong polling early on, his campaign failed to sustain it. By the end of the night Garcia sat in fourth place with more than 13.7 percent of the vote share. 

    It’s not Garcia’s first run for mayor, and he mulled the decision for months before entering the race. He said in August he “loves” being a member of Congress but also “care[s] deeply about the city.” Garcia ran against former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015, forcing the incumbent into a runoff but losing with only 43.7 percent of the vote. 

    Garcia conceded in a speech Tuesday night, thanking Chicago because “once again, you gave me a chance.” 

    Businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson, in his third bid for mayor, sat in fifth place with more than 9.4 percent of the vote share by the end of the night. Wilson said on Twitter he would not concede Tuesday night and cited thousands of outstanding Vote By Mail ballots. 

    Wilson, the son of a Louisiana sharecropper, owner of five McDonald’s franchises and a medical supply company and producer of the Emmy-winning national gospel TV show “Singsation,” last ran in 2019 and finished in fourth place out of 14 candidates with 10.6 percent of the vote. 

    Wilson has been notable in the last 12 months for a series of grocery and gas giveaways he’s hosted which aimed to mitigate the effects of inflation on vulnerable Chicago residents.  

    Community organizer and activist Ja’Mal Green, making his second attempt for mayor after being kicked off the ballot by Wilson in 2019, sat in sixth place with 2.1 percent of the vote share by the end of the night. 

    Green was initially hesitant but ended up conceding Tuesday night, congratulating Vallas and Johnson and saying on Twitter: “This race was hard fought and I’m excited about Chicago’s future!” 

    Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), also a progressive contender, sat in seventh place with 1.8 percent of the vote share by the end of vote counting Tuesday night. Recently reelected to a second full term in the state legislature, Buckner was first appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives in early 2019 and currently chairs the Illinois House Black Caucus. 

    Ald. Sophia King (4), chair of the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus and one of several progressive candidates in this year’s race, sat in eighth place with 1.2 percent of the vote share by the end of the night. 

    By the end of the night, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), a three-term South Side alderman who currently chairs the City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations, sat in last place with just over 0.4 percent of the vote share. 

    King, Buckner and Sawyer all conceded the race Tuesday night.

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